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Are You Taking The Leash Off And Letting Your Child Be Free To Play?

Are You Taking The Leash Off And Letting Your Child Be Free To Play?

Play is a child’s job. Have you ever noticed how focused a child can become during their play that they ignore instructions and voices of the adults? They are so finely tuned into their play because it is nature’s way of helping the child develop and mature in a manner that is appealing to a child. They don’t want to be taught how to be a doctor at age 5 by a parent sitting them down and explaining the duties and role of the family physician. The child would rather pretend to be a doctor and have a doll or stuffed animal as their patient, as they go about examining their pretend patient.

Play is a way for them to practice real life scenarios in a safe way. It also allows for the creative flow of thoughts and ideas. These are essential to the healthy development of the child. Parents who have a hard time letting go of their kids to allow unstructured play time need to recognize that these activities are actually assisting in their emotional and cognitive development.

Read my previous article about The Endless Battle Between School Works and Play for Children if you haven’t realized how kids’ creativity are being murdered these days.

Play can bring greater benefits than any scheduled activities

Play is their work. It is their time to process life through imaginative actions, and to build them into emotionally stronger people. The benefits of creative play should not be discounted or minimized.

Creative play has a multitude of benefits for children including:

  • Greater sense of self worth
  • Problem solving skills
  • Personal growth and learning
  • Increase in creative thought processes (creativity builds upon creativity)
  • Increase in emotional stability (children use play to work through complex issues)
  • Leadership abilities
  • Cognitive skills
  • Communication skills (as they play with other children and express themselves)

Don’t rob your kids of the benefits of creative play by having them busy all the time in scheduled activities. Allow time for them to play and be a child.

A subtle action can murder an innocent creative play

There are things that a parent or caregiver can inadvertently do that will kill a child’s abilities to flourish creatively in that moment. Below are just some of the things that can harm or inhibit creative play.

Hovering

When adults hoover over their children during play time, the children are aware of their presence. It inhibits their ability to play, as many children will limit their actions based on what they believe the adult will like or dislike in their actions. The child becomes attuned to accommodating the hovering by playing according to positive reactions from their caregiver.

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This can also be conversely true as well. Meaning that the child may play in a way that seeks out negative attention from the hovering caregiver. Either way, the hovering is not beneficial in the long run, as it is stifling the child’s ability to be creative without the direct scrutiny of an adult.

Pressure to perform

Children need to be able to play without feeling that they are performing. They don’t need to create something meaningful like a rehearsed puppet show or a quality piece of artwork to be creative.

Often, creativity is built over time. They need time, space, and freedom from pressure to be creative. Sometimes, nothing is created and that is fine too. The purpose is to allow them to be creative on their own and in their own element, so pressure must not be placed on them. Pressure does not help creativity flow for children. Instead it creates stress and negative emotions that inhibit creativity.

Control

Allow the child to do their own thing. If you are constantly saying “why don’t you do things this way” or “how about you do this…”, then you are trying to control the creative play.

Most children will eventually decide what and how they want to go about doing something. They don’t need interference. Even if it is the wrong way. As long as it is not harmful to them, then it is a creative experience that should teach them to do things differently next time. They will learn on their own using their own abilities than the controlling prodding from an adult.

Competition

There is plenty of competition for kids in this world and for the life ahead of them. Parents and adults do not need to make play time competitive, because for many kids this puts them off. They just want to participate with other children and enjoy the fun. They don’t want to be the loser in a competition.

If kids create their own competition in play, then that’s fine. It is not helpful for adults to intervene and force competitive situations in the play. It becomes real work when competition is put into the mix. It can suppress a child’s ability to be creative, as they are more focused on the competition at hand that allowing their natural creativity to abound.

Let the kids lead the play

Parents should allow for the child to lead the play, as this is allowing them to be the source of the creativity. Parents and adults can supply the materials needed and then let the child or children play using their own thoughts on how to proceed with the playtime. If parents get too involved or provide too much direction they inhibit the child’s creativity and self expression. Allowing the child space and time to play without specific instructions is exactly what children need to flourish in their creative element (provided that they are safe first and foremost).

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Below are some ways that you can encourage your child in free play. Allowing your child to do these things will stimulate their creative thought processes. It will also help their development emotionally and mentally.

1. Art

Provide your child with crayons, paints, paper, markers, empty boxes, and more and you will see them express their creativity. You don’t need to tell them what to draw or how to create art. They have their own ideas. If you want to be involved in the art then encourage their play by providing them with positive verbal cues as they play.

For example, as your daughter paints a piece of artwork and suddenly takes a bright red paint and splatters it all over their artwork, don’t tell her she is ruining her artwork. Instead comment on their creative choices. Praise their ability to know what they want and that they go and do it with confidence.

It is also ok to simply provide them with the supplies to create art and allow them the opportunity to create on their own. If you are concerned about mess, then cover the table and floor below the child with newspaper, paper towels, or other disposable materials and have them put on one of your old t-shirts. Be less concerned with the mess and more concerned with the child being able to freely create the art.

2. Outdoor exploration

Get outside and explore with your child. Something as simple as a bug box or binoculars can bring lots of creative ideas to the child. Allow the child to take the lead on what they want to discover that moment in nature or how they want to play. The great outdoors is a wonderful natural setting for play and imaginative activities to happen.

    3. Pretending adulthood

    One way that children play that helps them imagine how it will be to a grown up is through pretend play. When your children play adult scenarios such as, school (one child is the teacher and the others are students in a make believe classroom), doctor (they are doctors and perform surgeries and examinations on dolls or stuffed animals), or house (the kids pretend to be a family and they create home life situations to play out), they are imagining what it would be like to do these things in real life. They are playing through their reality of what can or may happen as adults in these scenarios. It is a way for them to safely express themselves and practice what it will be like to someday be an adult.

    4. Building

    Blocks, Legos, gear building sets, and other toys that allow children to build something are great for initiating creative and imaginative play. They must built to create something, therefore using their own skills of creativity and ingenuity. They are the architect, the construction crew, and the designer all in one. They plan, execute, and then enjoy the fruits of their labor when the project is complete.

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    There is great joy and self-worth attained when children build things. It isn’t just imaginative play, it is learning to start a project and complete it for the sake of their own satisfaction. Their self-motivation can be honed in on during building play time.

    Once again, parents can provide the materials and then let the child determine the course of the building, along with the execution. It is ok to help along the way if they ask for help, but allow them to direct you on what you should be doing in their project. That way they have the sense of being in control of their project and they are taking a leadership role in accomplishing the task at hand. It is empowering for the child and helps them to become stronger emotionally and mentally.

    5. Toys that facilitate creativity

    Play Doh, tinker toys, and the like facilitate creative play in children because they are creating somethings using these toys. These toys can be much like art and building combined. They allow the child to create freely from scratch. They can determine what to make and how to go about completion of what they want to make. They are utilizing great creative and innovative skills when allowed the space and freedom to plan and complete a project on their own.

    For example, a child can decide that they want to make a miniature town out of Play Doh. They get to decide how to create the buildings, where to place them, how big to make them, etc. They then get to execute and this involves trial and error. They learn to problem solve things such as the trees not standing up on their own, so they must create conifer trees only to support the weight of the Play Doh. They will revel in their success of completing their little town and feel proud of their accomplishment.

    It is more than just play, it is building life skills and developing problem solving skills that carry into adulthood.

      6. Physical activity

      Kids need physical activity. This is why they rarely sit still. They need to be moving physically all throughout the day, as this is the way children are made. They are physical creatures with an abundance of energy that is meant to be used for their benefit in the maturation process. When they play physically, especially with other children, they are often engaging in creative play.

      For example, they may chase one another and create imaginative games about good guys needing to capture the bad guys. They will create playtime activities on their own that involve physical play when they are allowed that freedom and enough physical space to move around.

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      Outdoors is the best place to allow them to be physically creative. It is also a great time for leadership skills to be developed. The child who is simply bossy will not attract other kids at play time. However, the child who has good leadership skills can attract other kids to play in their activity and can lead the way in the play.

      Creative physical play time is also beneficial to their physical well being since they are getting exercise while they are playing.

      Allow kids to be kids

      The Pediatrics Journal cites a variety of reasons that contribute to the reduction of play in society today,[1]

      …variety of factors that have reduced play, including a hurried lifestyle, changes in family structure, and increased attention to academics and enrichment activities at the expense of recess or free child-centered play.

      Parents need to be cognizant of their family lifestyle and schedule to ensure that their children are allowed to have time to be children. This means allowing them time to play freely which provides the opportunity for their creativity to blossom.

      Keeping children too busy and too structured is proving detrimental to their development in the long run. Their creativity, which is an important skill unlocks the gate for many valuable skills and traits children will need in adulthood, will be hindered.

      Featured photo credit: Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash via unsplash.com

      Reference

      More by this author

      Dr. Magdalena Battles

      A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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      Published on July 23, 2020

      11 Signs You’re an Overprotective Parent (And What to Do About It)

      11 Signs You’re an Overprotective Parent (And What to Do About It)

      Have you ever followed your child around the playground? They may have been a toddler and you were worried they would take the wrong step and fall off the jungle gym. Therefore, you followed your toddler around, keeping them within arm’s reach so that you could prevent them from falling or having an accident.

      I have been that parent at the playground in the past. With twin boys who had no fear as toddlers, I would follow them onto playground equipment because I was concerned for their safety.

      After a few months of doing this, I stopped. I came to realize that children need to learn through their own experiences. They will fall, but they will also learn how to avoid danger and make calculated judgments about risks through their experiences. If I was always there to stop them from falling, they wouldn’t learn to stop themselves.

      They had to learn things on their own. Of course, as a parent, it is still my responsibility to not place them in situations where they could be terribly injured.

      For example, we started at playgrounds that were intended for children under the age of five. We didn’t move up to the big playgrounds until they were old enough and aware of their behaviors and the risks involved in playground play activities.

      Why Parents Become Overprotective

      The intention of overprotective parenting is well-meaning. These types of parents are highly concerned about their children’s safety and decision making. Their ultimate goal is to protect their child from harm. Parents should be concerned about the safety and well-being of their children.

      However, on the flip side, parents should also be teaching their children about risk and responsibility. Those lessons are best taught through life experience. If we are always following behind our children, ready to catch them at a moment’s notice, then we aren’t allowing them to learn about risk and responsibility.

      Unger, a researcher on overprotective parenting, suggests that parents should allow children to participate in activities on their own that are considered low-risk.[1] This means allowing children to engage in activities on their own that provide “manageable amounts of risk and responsibility.”

      Unger cited that parents have become increasingly more protective of their children and are much more watchful of their children’s activities than previous generations.

      The problem with being an overprotective parent is that the child misses out on the opportunity to build responsible behavior skills, build autonomy, and develop self-esteem. Their confidence can be undermined when mom or dad are always watching and guiding their behavior.

      They can develop a sense that they are unable to make their own good decisions because they are never allowed to do so in life. Their confidence and self-esteem are hindered when they aren’t allowed to do things on their own without their parents hovering or watching over them.

      What Are the Signs of an Overprotective Parent?

      Parents with overly protective tendencies think that they are helping their child. Their goal is to protect their child, but it goes to the extreme. Below are some ways that a parent can be overly protective.

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      This type of behavior can end up harming their child’s development when one or more of these behaviors is present. There are likely other ways that a parent can be overprotective of their child, as this list is not comprehensive.

      These are examples so you can assess your behavior to determine if you need to loosen up overly protective parenting habits.

      1. You choose your child’s friends or direct them toward friendships with particular children.
      2. You don’t allow them to do activities on their own. For example, not allowing them to walk the dog in front of your home even though you live in a safe neighborhood and could even watch them from the front window.
      3. You are constantly monitoring your child. For example, you show up at their sports practices often to check in and see how they are doing or you go online to check their grades every week to ensure that they don’t have any missing work in any classes. If they do have missing work, you make sure that they get it completed and turned in before their final grade can be affected.
      4. You prevent them from making mistakes when you can see that they are going to make a low-risk mistake. For example, not allowing your five-year-old to put ketchup on their pancakes because you know they are going to dislike it and ruin their breakfast. You won’t allow them to chose to make such a mistake because you know that they will cry and get upset and you want to prevent them from becoming emotionally upset.
      5. You don’t allow them to go to friend’s homes without you.
      6. Sleepovers at other homes or camps are never allowed during their childhood.
      7. You drill them with questions about their life when they are out of your sight, such as wanting to know about all the details of their school day every day when you pick them up from school.
      8. You guide them to the extent that they are prevented from failing. For example, not allowing your teen to try out for the basketball team because you know that they will not make the cut.
      9. You make their decisions for them. For example, you don’t allow them to choose whether they can walk to school or ride the bus. You drive them and do not allow for any decision outside of this because you want to keep them safe.
      10. You are always volunteering to serve in their school classroom or chaperone the school trips because you want to “keep an eye on what is going on in your child’s class”.
      11. You do not allow them to have secrets or privacy. For example, they are not allowed to have a locked diary that you do not read or you don’t allow them to lock their bedroom door ever.

      Why Being Overprotective Is Not a Good Idea

      Kids learn from natural consequences. If they are not allowed to have natural consequences because their parent is continually protecting them from failure and harm, their development is being hindered.

      For example, let’s look at a child named Sally who is 13. She is a child who is overly managed by her parents and is not allowed to go to sleepovers or even go to another friend’s home. Her parents are worried about stranger danger and what can happen if they are not with their child.

      Sally is allowed to have friends at her home, but her parents are always watching the kids. Whenever Sally and her friends begin to disagree, the argument is squelched before the children can even begin to work things out between themselves because Sally’s parents will intervene and solve the problem.

      Sally is never alone with friends outside of school because her parents are always present. The presence of her parents in her socialization is hindering her development.

      She doesn’t know how to work out disagreements between her peers because she has never been allowed the opportunity to even try. Her social skills are lacking because parents intervene to direct her behavior while she is with her friends.

      Kids Need Space and Time

      Kids need space and time to be independent while they are children. If Sally were to be left alone with her friends, her friends would eventually push back at her bossy behavior when her parents are not present.

      However, because Sally’s parents are always present she gets away with being overly-bossy to her friends. She is not learning about the natural consequences of her bossiness but someday will when it may be difficult to change her behaviors as she is older in more set in her ways.

      It is easier to learn through natural consequences at a young age. Sally will likely end up going to therapy as an adult because she can’t keep friendships intact. Her bossy behaviors and lack of awareness have led to her having severed friendships repeatedly as a young adult.

      She will have to work with a therapist to uncover the reason why she is losing friends and then work to change her behavior to learn better ways to act towards her friends in the future.

      Effects of Overprotection

      There are a variety of effects of overprotective parenting. It is often dependent on the methods the parent utilizes and the extent of the overprotective behavior.

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      For example, let’s look at Tina who is a girl age 10. She wants to run and participate in her school’s after-school competitive track program. However, she is not allowed to participate in after school activities because her parents are worried that she will be exposed to boys and may start having relationships with the opposite sex too young.

      Another concern is that a boy may “take advantage” of their daughter, so they want to protect her from being exposed to boys outside of school and their supervision.

      The problem with this is that Tina is missing out on participating in a sports activity that could help her develop friendships. She is also missing out on the opportunities associated with being a part of a team, working hard physically to compete, and developing sportsmanship skills.

      Her parents are well-meaning, but their over-protection is preventing her from participating in a sports activity that she deeply desires to engage in.

      There are other effects of overprotective parenting. Below are some examples.

      Examples of Overprotective Parenting

      This list is not comprehensive, as every parenting situation and family is unique. However, this list can help provide some insight into the detrimental effects that overprotective parenting can cause.

      1. Lack of Self-Esteem Development

      If children are not allowed to try things on their own, they cannot build self-confidence and self-esteem.

      2. Lack of Autonomy

      If a child is always accustomed to having a parent around and supervising their behavior, they can become dependent on the decision making of their parents because they are never allowed to be alone or do things alone.

      3. Anxiety

      A child who is never allowed to try to do things on their own can become anxious when they are finally allowed to try things out on their own. They worry about making mistakes or failing because they have continually had a parent to help them avoid mistakes and failure.

      4. Lack of Responsibility

      When parents are always helping and guiding their children to an extreme, children will fail to develop their own responsibility skills. If they are never held responsible for anything, how can they develop a sense of responsibility?

      5. People-Pleasing Tendencies

      Youniverse explained that children who have overprotective parents who constantly direct their children’s behavior end up seeking the approval of those in their life.[2] These children will grow up accustomed to someone always telling them what the “right behavior” looks like.

      If they don’t have that praise or comfort of someone saying they did things right, they can become anxious or depressed. They become people-pleasers who seek the appraisal of others.

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      6. Risky Behavior

      When children are raised in an overly protective home, they often engage in risky behavior when the reigns are lifted. They haven’t experienced the failures associated with low-risk situations at a younger age because of their overly protective parents.

      Therefore, when they get older, access to high-risk situations becomes more easily accessible, and without understanding high risk versus low-risk situations, they engage without the wisdom of previous experiences.

      Because of their inexperience with risks in general, they may engage in high risk because they are unaware of consequences.

      7. Diminished Development Regarding Fear, Social Skills, and Coping Skills

      Psychology Today explains that children with overprotective parents have developmental issues, such as not being able to deal with stress and poor social skills.[3]

      For example, a child who isn’t allowed to play on a playground because the parent wants to protect their child from injury is prevented from learning about risk-taking on the playground and the bumps and bruises from consequences.

      Such a child may grow up to either having too much fear because it was instilled by their parents or have no fear because they have no concept of high-risk versus low-risk behavior.

      8. Lack of Immunity

      The Psychology Today article also explained that children who have overly protective parents that do not allow exposure to germs can become children who have a compromised immune system. Exposure to germs as children is needed for them to develop a healthy immune system naturally.

      When parents are disinfecting everything the child encounters and not allowing exposure to germs (e.g., not allowing them to go to a petting zoo or to play in the sandbox because of the germs in those places), they can be stunting their child’s ability to develop their immune system.

      9. Control Freaks

      Children who have been parented by control freaks learn this behavior from their parents. Parents are the primary role model of behavior for their children. If children see their parents acting as though they must have control over others and every situation at all times, then they too will learn to behave in this same manner.

      What to Do If You Are an Overprotective Parent

      If after reading this content you feel that you may be an overprotective parent, there is hope. You can change.

      It begins with loosening the reigns of control over your child in a calculated and reasonable manner. Allowing for low-risk behaviors and the consequences involved can help your child become more independent.

      There is definitely a balance to protective versus overprotective parenting. Allowing for activities and exposure to experiences that are low-risk is a good way to start.

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      For example, allowing your child to play on age-appropriate playground equipment (without following them) is a good first step. They will experience some bumps and bruises, but this is a part of normal development and learning about consequences.

      You will want to research authoritative parenting methods if you feel you are an overprotective parent. Overprotective parents tend to be authoritarian parents.

      Here is a LifeHack article I previously wrote about authoritarian parenting, so you can understand the drawbacks to this parenting method: Authoritarian Parenting.

      Authoritative parenting is not control-based parenting. It involves teaching consequences naturally, allowing age-appropriate decision-making, and having conversations with children rather than dictating for ultimate control and compliance.

      MSU Extension provides some great guidelines for authoritative parenting.[4] Below are some of the behaviors they described with authoritative parenting methods:

      • Provide reasonable, age-appropriate expectations for children.
      • Stress and anxiety for children can have positive outcomes, as they are allowed to experience these feelings in small doses as children. They can then build their coping skills and ability to deal with stress and anxiety through experience.
      • Encourage independence, as it helps children build their confidence and self-esteem.
      • Allowing for failures when they are young helps them learn how to pick themselves back up and try again. Developing this ability at a young age regularly will help prepare them for bigger failures when they are older, such as breakups, failed classes, or losing a job.

      Final Thoughts

      It is never too late to work on our parenting skills. There is no such thing as a perfect parent, therefore, we can always be working on improving our parenting methods.

      We all want our children to be successful, happy, and competent as adults. It does not happen overnight. Parenting is a continual process of trying daily to help our children live and learn through their own life experiences.

      If we try to protect them every step of the way, then they are not being allowed to truly experience life.

      Allow for age-appropriate experiences and allow for failures so that they can learn how to pick themselves back up and try again.

      More Tips on Effective Parenting

      Featured photo credit: Sue Zeng via unsplash.com

      Reference

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